Pride is so much more than just a celebration. Pride festivals allow HRC to make genuine and meaningful connections with LGBTQ+ people, and our allies, educating them about HRC's impactful work and encouraging them to get involved with us. The beauty of Pride is the diversity of people we engage with and the many types of conversations we’re having throughout the day. Pride is HRC’s number one source of new members and supporters, so throughout the year, it’s not unusual to locate an HRC booth staffed by our dedicated Membership Outreach team and volunteers, who are instrumental to growing HRC’s membership base.
As part of the Membership Outreach team, Menal Khanna and Jackie Solis largely lead the operational and logistical part of planning and coordinating HRC Pride events and other community-based events. Such events are designed to connect with community members and, ultimately, have them join HRC’s membership base.
In planning and coordinating these events and expanding HRC’s membership base, Khanna and Solis work closely with HRC’s steering committees, volunteers and existing members to optimize work on the ground.
For Solis, who is HRC's membership outreach operations coordinator, the work that she does is a “personal motivation.”
"There’s a lot of work and organizing that takes place before we actually set up for an event, a lot of detailing that goes beyond just putting up the booth," said Solis. "We have to think logistically and prepare ourselves to make genuine connections with people while at the event. We think about everything from product choice, product placement and what community members might expect from an HRC booth or event.”
In addition to all of the planning and coordination, staffing a booth at a Pride or community event is a significant undertaking. Team members spend many hours on their feet, often in the hot summer sun, doing everything from spreading the word about HRC’s work to selling merchandise.
“As a team, we attend hundreds of Pride events and not just during Pride Month," said Khanna, HRC's membership outreach communities and operations manager. "HRC’s Membership Outreach team plans, coordinates and attends hundreds of Pride events from January to November, almost year round. There’s a lot of logistics involved and so many moving pieces. We wear so many hats. We each contribute a lot of work and hours.”
To truly connect with LGBTQ+ communities and allies across the country, both Khanna and Solis, as well as the entire Membership Outreach team, have to truly understand what the LGBTQ+ communities and our allies are asking of progressive organizations such as HRC while being cognizant of the value of people’s contributions and support.
“A lot of HRC's outreach happens at Pride events. It's active outreach that results in a lot of funding and support for our work," Khanna said. Through community outreach efforts like Pride, we loop in a lot of people into our network. I like to think of it as an effort of inclusivity and a form of grassroot giving, which is too often ignored. It’s necessary and impactful to our mission and, therefore, important to recognize its value. Even if we’re receiving a $5 donation for an HRC sticker from someone at an event, we’re growing our support network. These folks are now more knowledgeable about what HRC does and how we’re advancing equality for our community.”
Regarding inclusivity, Khanna explained that these community events allow for HRC staff members to connect with community members from many walks of life. Both Khanna and Solis are able to hear personal stories and experiences from community members. By doing so, HRC learns more about the specific needs and concerns about our community to better serve the community at large in the many aspects of life.
“Through the work we do, we often experience moments with community members that go beyond just gathering information like names and email addresses,” said Solis. “For many people, this is the first engagement with HRC that they have. Often, people tell us that they’ve seen our logo on car bumper stickers or flags, but aren’t knowledgeable about our work. By attending Pride and community events, we’re helping to build a diverse and inclusive community and helping to challenge the idea that HRC is strictly a white gay man’s organization.”
Khanna says that integration of more volunteers and supporters is facilitated once the initial connection takes place.
“The opportunities behind the Pride booth are limitless,” said Khanna. “We have people who then continue to remain connected with HRC’s work, including political work, through communication efforts; emails, phone calls, texts. We get a lot of people who are interested in volunteering. People get motivated by connecting with us at our events and then start getting involved with their local steering committees. Even if they simply get some educational background, they go off and have meaningful conversations with their friends and family about our work and what it means for LGBTQ+ people everywhere, about the issues that impact the community.”
While June is the team's “busiest” of months, according to Khanna, the team works hard all year, attending Pride events from coast to coast and helping members and volunteers host more intimate community events.
This helps a more “diverse and expansive group of people” learn more about HRC’s work, said Khanna. “By helping to host these community events, we help our HRC people to connect with even more people in hopes of joining the movement. This helps us have a presence with our community year round, and also helps us build deeper relationships within communities of many cultural and ethnical backgrounds.”
When not helping at Pride and community events, Solis helps to create tools to understand HRC’s consumer trends to better serve LGBTQ+ people and allies interested in supporting HRC through its consumer merchandise.
“It’s not just ordering and selling,” said Solis. “I help to analyze what people actually want to see at booths. It’s incredibly data-driven, which helps us make decisions regarding inventory and delivery, or what merchandise is seen at Pride booths. This helps us to understand different demographic preferences too and, ultimately, where our community is. For instance, right now, people are incredibly interested in pro-trans, trans-inclusive merchandise, suggesting that our community is at a moment of inclusivity and broad support for each other. This type of insight is valuable across the entire organization as it helps us better understand our community and its specific interests.”
With the upcoming elections rapidly approaching, Khanna and Solis said that the Membership Outreach team is excited to work with canvassers and volunteers to help support pro-equality candidates and galvanize pro-equality voters.
While Khanna, Solis and the entire Membership Outreach team are focused on expanding HRC’s membership base, they also understand that their work is also designed to “build presence for HRC that goes beyond donations,” as Khanna puts it.
“What we do, as a team, is help put a face to HRC and interact with actual people. This let’s people know that we exist and what we are doing to help our community, to push LGBTQ+ equality forward. Our presence helps them know that we exist to better their own personal lives.”